4thWorld Day of the Poor: Use it or Lose it- A RC Woman Priest Reflects
4th World day of the Poor-IV Jornada Mundial de los Pobres-4e Journee Mondiale des Pauvres- 4.Welttag der Armen
A day to stop and think, pray and DO-ACT!!!
Today in Roman Catholic religious observance we celebrate the Fourth World Day of the Poor. This is a day set aside by Pope Francis in 2017 for remembering to “stretch forth your hand to the poor” (Sirach 7:32) on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Yet, strangely, my Sunday Missal Readings in the otherwise very good Guide “Living With Christ”, made no mention of this day. And, as I attended morning Diocese of Venice (my SW Florida Diocese) TV Mass sent from a church in Bradenton the Priest made no mention of this day in his homily. Fortunately,I tuned into a TV Mass on EWTN at 12 O’Clock and it was the Pope’s celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica of this World Day of the Poor. His homily was magnificent as he rolled in all the readings of the day with the theme of this most important day of consciousness of the poor, materially and otherwise, abounding in our midst and our Christian obligation to “Stretch forth our hands”. His full homily and earlier ones on this theme dear to Pope Francis’ heart can be found on the Vatican website Vatican.va. The whole texts are imminintely worth reading. I will only comment on some of his thoughts today as I share my own.
The readings of the day are: Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Psalm 128:1-5; I Thessalonians 5:1-6 and Matthew 25:14-30. In Proverbs, the virtues of a good woman and wife who reveres God are extolled. She brings good to her spouse and the family and works hard “with loving hands” to do this. Yet we don’t often quote the following virtue listed in Proverbs 31 v. 20: ” She reaches out her hands to the poor;and extends her arms to the needy”. (In The Inclusive Bible this reads “She holds out a hand to the hungry,and opens her arms to the homeless”. Psalm 128, the response, says that those who revere God and walk in God’s ways will be blessed and surrounded with love. Thessalonians says that as children of light we will not be shaken by the disasters of the times but look beyond to seeing God at work in the darkest of times and stay alert for the coming of Christ in the midst of darkness. And the Gospel is what is often called “The Parable of the Talents“. A Talent was money in Jesus’ time but we can and do interpret this Gospel as speaking of more than money, of how we use or neglect our God-Given talents and gifts.
Simply,on one level, this Parable says regarding our gifts from God “If you don’t use it, you will lose it”. That makes a lot of sense-no matter what talents and gifts we are given, however great or small, if we fail to use them they shrivel up and die and us along with them. Yet, every time I read it I feel sorry for the one who received less because she or he had less abilities to begin with and who was so afraid of the Boss that the talent was buried in the ground for safe-keeping thus enraging the Boss who expected something back on the gift given. I didn’t like that the gifts given were uneven, and that giving back the gift was seen as an affront, rather than the act of a scared being. But as I reflect I must agree that that is the way of the world that Jesus was trying to capture here. The materially oriented world is unfair and uneven and capricious. And Jesus was conveying that each one of us has received gifts from God: free and wonderful gifts that we can share or hoard or bury.
What have your gifts been? What are they? No, don’t minimize anything- you CAN find your unique gifts. My Cousin Jackie has the gift of passion for a cause and her activities during this last election were unceasing and powerful. (And yes, we were so joyful when Biden, a man of faith and decency did win. Yet, we are also mindful to embrace everyone no matter who they voted for or why). A friend spoke to me the other day of her gift of music, and how she has not been able to use it of late. Suddenly, I wanted her play to her instrument again, and both of us would be lifted. Another friend spoke to me about how her sewing and quilt making grounds her and brings her joy in these times. She made masks for me and for many others, and a baby quilt for her new grand daughter and for my God-daughter’s newborn. The joy of giving filled her. Still another man, one of our Good Shepherd members, is a formerly homeless man who is not only homed in his own place, but is an Elder in our community, leading in worship and reaching out to others who are still homeless and others. He recently broke his leg above the ankle and had to stand an operation and living in a rehab when he was already stressed out by living in these difficult covid times. Yet his joy in God’s love and the gifts he has been given were never dampened. His niece helped him learn how to use Facebook since he can’t get out to share his joy in God’s love and he is writing beautiful messages for all to see.
I am overwhelmed as I look back on my life and realize all the gifts I have been given-gifts I can use, gifts I can share and gifts, especially of people and community, that make life worth living. I can empathize, I can love, I can write, I can speak, and I can outstretch my arms and serve others, especially the poor materially and in spirit. And if I do little or none of this, I am the poorer for it. This time of Covid shut-in has challenged me to keep using my gifts even in different ways. It has also challenged me not to become selfish or self-centered and not to pull in so far that I can’t reach out again. Like you, I am working on how to use and share my gifts in this difficult time. I am learning that a phone call or even a good message or a letter is another form of touch in a way I did not have to learn before.
Today Pope Francis reminded us that we are given such wealth to share. He noted that “those who do not live to serve serve for little in this life”. He noted that we have to take risks and not be overly cautious if we are to put our gifts to good use. We are not valued for what we save or keep for ourselves, but by the fruit we bear. We are not to seek “the good life” but the good we can do with our lives. We are to see those in needs, not focus on our own needs. We need hands outstretched, not grasping and clasping. In the parable, the first two given talents took risks and invested them. The third took no risks and buried the talent. Pope Francis suggested that we “hand over our life plans to the wind and serve. Those of us who only observe the rules and take care of ourselves take no risks. So we are mummified and our souls are mummies”. WOW!
He added that when we only “follow the rules” and fear making mistakes that fear can take over. The third person who received the one talent lacked initiative and creativity, and was full of fear. He did no wrong, but he did no good. He buried his gift. instead we are challenged to be generous, to conquer fear and passivity which becomes complicity. We are challenged to look fear in the face and let go of disinterest. For long term interest on our talent we are to “invest in the poor-the center of the Gospel”.
Pope Francis reminded us that the Gospel can not be understood without the poor. The poor among us often lack the very basics needed to live. Yet they are fully gifted beings loved of God who are symbols of Jesus. Jesus became one of the poor for us. He reached out to the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the stranger, the profoundly ill and the despondent regardless of gender, culture, race,religion or anything else. He was so rich in love and gives us all that love. We can accept and use it or we can instead develop a poverty of love and become the poorest of all. In the end of our lives, what we have will not matter-success, power or money won’t mean a thing. Our lives will be measured by the love given away. That is our true riches. To serve Jesus in the poor, to bring water and food and shelter to those who do not have it, hope to the hopeless and love to those who feel unloved or unlovely, is to share the riches we have been given, and seeing those riches grow will bring us joy and peace, now and forever.
So, and I return to Pope Francis words here : “As we face Christmas we must not ask what can I have, what can I buy-but what can I give, like Jesus”.
Be blessed and give it away this holy day!
Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Florida
Rev. Dr. Judith A.B.Lee, DMin, DSW,MSW